Kmart Chef restaurants were a small chain of free-standing fast-food restaurants owned by Kmart. They were started in 1967 with the first location being in the parking lot of their Pontiac, Michigan store. They would open several more Michigan locations and would eventually add restaurants in New Mexico, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas.
The menu consisted of standard fast foods such as burgers, french fries, hot dogs, fruit drinks, soft drinks, and pies. The food was served in a hybrid cafeteria/fast food method. You would come to the location and grab a tray, then move along a counter and get the food you wanted at various stations.
Once you got your food, you would take your tray and could enjoy indoor seating. This was the trend at the time and even tradition walk-up restaurants like McDonald’s were making the change to this fast-food dining paradigm.
This method has been experimented with by many fast-food chains. Burger King still runs many locations similar to this at malls, airports, and highway service areas.
Prices were reasonable for food at the time. A Burger would cost you about 18 cents, which was also the price point that was taking hold at most food establishments at the time. So an individual could easily have a meal for under 50 cents. That would be about $5.32 in 2019.
Kmart Chef never really caught on, but the strategy was sound. If you could make customers comfortable and give them more time at your location, they would spend more money. Unfortunately, other restaurants were not just doing the same thing as Kmart Chef, they were going it a lot better. So the chain folded in 1974 after only opening 11 locations.
Eventually, they would add eating back to Kmart in the form of in-store Cafes, but the age of their experimenting with a fast-food system was over.